Canada posts smaller-than-expected C$983 million February trade deficit

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada posted a narrower-than expected trade deficit of C$983 million ($691.57 million) in February as exports rose on a surge in aircraft shipments and imports declined on lower demand for crude oil, official data showed on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Shipping containers travel on railcars unloaded at Roberts Bank Superport in Delta, British Columbia, Canada January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a shortfall of C$1.87 billion. Statistics Canada revised the January deficit figure to C$1.66 billion from an initial C$1.47 billion.

“It’s a positive headline surprise for February,” said Stephen Tapp, deputy chief economist at Export Development Canada in an interview, but cautioned it was unlikely to continue.

“This reflects the start of the COVID-19 impacts in China and spreading throughout the world, but it’s certainly going to get worse before it gets better,” Tapp added.

The Bank of Canada cut its overnight interest rate by half a percentage point, to 0.25%, for the third time in a month on Friday as officials try to shield the Canadian economy from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.[L1N2BK1KE]

Statistics Canada has said repeatedly it is monitoring for the possible impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on Canada’s economic data, including on the trade front, which the agency says could be significantly affected.

However, the coronavirus outbreak, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, did not appear to have a major impact on the February data, Statscan said on Thursday, despite reduced trade with China.

Imports from China, the agency said, fell for a second consecutive month, dropping 6.8%, largely on lower shipments of items including computers, cellphones and clothing. Exports to China also declined, down 6.4%, notably on lower exports of lobster and crab.

Meanwhile, Statscan said the value of overall Canadian exports rose 0.5% in February, largely on higher shipments of private jets, with 8 of the 11 product sections tracked by Statistics Canada posting increases. Exports of aircraft rose 46.8% in February, reaching their highest level in five years.

Imports fell by 0.8%, largely on lower crude oil imports, with declines observed in 7 of the 11 product sections. Statscan said imports of energy products fell 16.0%, with lower crude oil from the United States contributed to the most to the February decrease.

Canada’s trade surplus with the United States, it’s largest trading partner, widened to C$3.75 billion from C$3.40 billion in January, Statscan noted.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Editing by Dale Smith and Nick Zieminski